Sunset officials squabble over cashing out workers' vacation time

Thursday , October 31, 2013 - 1:00 AM

Microsoft Word - Sunset General Plan 120208.doc
Bryon Saxton, Standard-Examiner Staff

SUNSET — Cashing out employees’ accrued vacation hours in accordance with city policy is proving to be no vacation for the Sunset City Council.

Mayor Chad Bangerter and council members became divided over the issue after six city workers approached the council Oct. 15, requesting among them a $16,000 payout on a portion of the vacation hours they have accrued.

But the council denied the request, telling the workers it was not budgeted for, and to take their request back to their department heads to have them try to find the money.

The council’s decision concerns Bangerter, who fears city leaders are merely passing a debt onto future city leaders.

“We have a policy that allows workers to request vacation payout if they are over 480 (vacation) hours (accrued),” Bangerter said of the policy adopted in 2008 as a perk, to make Sunset more competitive in enticing new hires.

Under the cash-for-vacation-hours policy, it would cost the city just more than $140,000 to put its 17 full-time staffers eligible for the program at a zero vacation balance, city treasurer Linda Youngdell said.

The conditions of the policy limit employees to being able to, once a year, cash out a maximum of 100 vacation hours, Youngdell said, with the stipulation that the request “can be denied based on the financial position of the city at the time of the request.”

The last time a payout for vacation hours was granted was in October 2010, involving one employee, Youngdell said.

“It is what it is,” Bangerter said of the amounts. “It’s a great bonus, it’s a great perk.”

But even if the council were to “tweak” the current policy, he said, the city would still be liable to pay employees what they have accrued to date up to the 480-hour cap.

“This is a liability the city has. But other council members say they won’t pay it,” Bangerter said. “Better to pay now at today’s wages, than pay it at their retirement.”

The closed-mindedness of the council is a real “morale buster,” he said.

But councilman Ryan Furniss said the blame is on Bangerter and department heads for not managing the employees’ vacation hours.

“The night of that vote, the (federal) government was still shut down. To me, it is not a good time to address this,” Furniss said of the payout.

“There was no line item in the budget. There was no forecast from department heads. This is an example where the department heads and mayor did not properly manage the vacation time,” Furniss said.

Had it involved a city employee under a financial hardship, Furniss said, he would have been willing to grant an exemption. But after talking with department heads in private following the Oct. 15 meeting, he said, that was not the case.

If city workers are accruing so much vacation that they are unable to use it, Furniss said, maybe city leaders need to re-evaluate the whole vacation accrual process.

City workers accrue between 8 and 16 hours per month of vacation time based on their years of service with the city, Youngdell said.

Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or bsaxton@standard.net, or follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.

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